IT IS supposed to mark the burial site of England’s most celebrated highwayman - but new research suggests that Dick Turpin’s body was never there and that in any case, his life was unworthy of celebration.
The corner graveyard at St George Street, York is marked out by a headstone that did not appear until two centuries after Turpin was hanged, James Sharpe, emeritus professor of early modern history at the University of York and the author of a book about Turpin, said.
“It may have been put there as a tourist attraction. I am hoping that old council records may shed some light on it,” he added.
Turpin, who was tried in York under the pseudonym John Palmer, was “basically a nasty thug”, said Prof Sharpe, who is working with York Dungeon to establish more of the history.
The figure of legend was the invention of a Victorian novelist, William Harrison Ainsworth, who borrowed Turpin’s name and attached it to a fictitious character who rode to York on a horse named Black Bess, supposedly also buried at St George’s Graveyard.
In fact, Turpin was buried in an unmarked grave and his cadaver exhumed by body snatchers with a ready market among medical researchers.
Locals intervened and reinterred it with quicklime, to inhibit further grave robbery.
“Wherever Dick Turpin is buried is a mystery, but it seems very unlikely that he’s under the current headstone,” Prof Sharpe said.